As of this writing, three spirits are known to reside at the 10th Avenue Theatre and Arts Centre at 930 10th Avenue in downtown San Diego. A fourth is suspected due to interesting and unexplained early morning activity that occurred in the first floor theatre.
To know the ghosts at The 10th Avenue Theatre, one must have some knowledge of the history of the site. The First Baptist Church was the original owner of the building. Since the 1800’s, the First Baptist faithful worshipped in the large church next door (south) to the building that now holds the 10th Avenue Theatre and Arts Centre.
In the mid-1920’s, a generous member of the congregation donated money so that the church could build a chapel. The benefactor’s intent was to provide a 24 hour place of worship for the military personnel of San Diego. The thought was that if sailors arrived in port at three in the morning, they should be able to come to a house of worship for comfort, prayer and motivation. The chapel was a way for the First Baptist Church to achieve this goal without the need to open the large sanctuary in the main building.
And so, in 1928, the church opened the doors of the chapel and realized the dream of the generous member of the congregation. The building not only became that place of solitude for our military arriving home from a long stint at sea, but it also became a building utilized by a variety of service groups and youth groups such as the boys scouts and youth clubs sponsored by the First Baptists.
Now that there is somewhat of a back story of the site, the history of the ghosts of the 10th Avenue Theatre makes some sense.
During World War II, a Navy doctor had a special tradition. Upon returning to the United States (after his trips to the Pacific Theater) he would go to a nearby church and pray for the men he treated, but could not save. One particular soldier had suffered a gruesome chest wound. The doctor desperately worked to save the man’s life to no avail. The doctor was cupping the soldier’s heart when he felt the heart give its final beat. The doctor simultaneously felt some odd sensation throughout his body. He just chalked it up to the stresses of a battle field hospital.
When the doctor returned to port in San Diego he set out to fulfill his solemn tradition of praying for the souls of his fallen comrades. He did this at the chapel of the First Baptist church. He gave church officials the following account. He reported that he entered the sanctuary and sat down in a pew at the back row. He knelt to pray and was suddenly rocked backwards against the pew. As he gazed to the ceiling with his eyes and mouth wide open, he felt that same odd sensation that he experienced back at the field hospital on Okinawa. A church official found him slumped to the floor and unconscious where he had been kneeling. It seems as though the spirit of the British Lieutenant had entered the doctor’s body back in that hospital and was now free and had taken up residence at 930 10th Avenue.
Following this doctor’s visit to the chapel, the eerie echo of a British officer’s voice has been heard throughout the building. At times, it sounds like the officer is barking out orders as if in battle. Other times, the voice seems to be keeping soldiers marching in unison with a staccato march cadence. He has even been heard singing pub songs as if celebrating the victory in the Pacific over Japan.
The Lieutenant has never been known to be frightful or mean. He seems to be content with his home in the building, but has known to get a little testy with those who have been heard speaking ill of subject matter related to the United Kingdom.
When the building was occupied by the First Baptist Church, the rooftop was used for a variety of outdoor activities. The church surrounded the roof deck with a chain link fence and installed chicken wire over the top of the court to keep any stray recreational equipment from falling to the streets below. The church youth took advantage of the great downtown playground for such games as basketball, badminton, volleyball, and shuffle board.
On one particularly hot day in October, a girl named Missy had had enough fun on the roof and wanted to go back downstairs to get out of the heat. The pastor supervising the handful of kids on the rooftop reassured Missy that right after the current basketball game ended the group would be going down to the social hall on the second floor for refreshments. Missy was a bit of a precocious child and didn’t feel comfortable with that time frame so she bolted for the staircase.
The pastor excused himself from his referee duties and asked one of the older kids to let the game play out and bring the kids downstairs. The Baptist pastor ran after Missy. In the stairwell, Missy had made it down the first flight of stairs. When she heard the pastor calling her name, she turned the episode into a game and yelled out to the pastor “Catch me if you can!” The pastor quickened his pace down the stairs and as he rounded the landing between the third and second floor, he heard the last words of Missy’s young life. All she was able to shout was “Catch me…” before the pastor heard a small shriek, then a series of dull thumps.
Missy’s body was found at the bottom of the stairs on the second floor, her head split open and leaking blood. The horror-stuck pastor scrambled down the stairs to the twisted body of the dead girl. He would never be the same.
Missy has been known to only roam the stairwell. The thought is that she is playing in that vertical playground for eternity. While traveling the building’s stairwell, a person might have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the little girl peering around the corner of a landing. She’s easy to recognize. She had mid-length dark hair with straight bangs across her forehead. She also sports a white head band. She’s wearing a green and white striped dress and will draw attention with her whimsical smile.
As mentioned, the pastor who ran after Missy never recovered from the idea that he had caused Missy’s death. After the tragic accident, he agonized over the fact that he should not have run after Missy, rather he should have just walked down the stairs to meet her. By running, Missy’s playful mind turned this moment in time into a game. And the memory that really tore at the pastor’s mind was the final utterance from Missy.
“Catch me…” echoed in the pastor’s brain, just as it had echoed off the smooth, plaster stairwell walls. The pastor would agonize over those two words twisting their meaning into Missy’s desperate call for him to catch her from falling to her death. Eventually the pain and guilt reached a level that was intolerable for the pastor.
On the morning of Monday, November 25, 1963, the church secretary unlocked the front door to the church and proceeded up the stairs to her mezzanine floor office. She was still thinking about the inspirational sermon the pastor had given the day before. He spoke beautifully about the need to be strong after the horrible assassination of President John F. Kennedy that had occurred on Friday. The secretary put down her purse and knocked on the pastor’s door. There was no response.
She walked back down to the first floor and entered the sanctuary and called out for the pastor. She noticed a dim light glowing from a cloak room on the side of the alter. Thinking that the pastor was organizing the choir robes from the day before, the secretary walked down the side aisle of the large chapel and called out to him. She entered the small room and uttered the pastor’s name again. Suddenly she recoiled in horror as she stared at the dead body of the pastor hanging from a storage loft access ladder. It is presumed that the pastor had gone to try and apologize to Missy for causing her premature death.
More research is pending on the existence of these three spirits at The 10th Avenue Theatre. As more information is gleaned from the building, we will be posting it at our website.
Go to 10thavenuetheatre.com for more information about the 10th Avenue Theatre and Arts Centre.